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One does not view poverty row pictures and road show exploitation flicks with the expectation of witnessing fine acting, directing or writing--after all, that's the charm. The relative inexperience or stiffness of performances allows the modern movie-goer to concentrate on the dated situations and propaganda--both of which offer a clearer window to the cultural mores of the era than acknowledged works of classic cinema: pop culture has always been more visceral than what we choose to elevate as high art. This film is enjoyable on several levels--as a societal time machine, a "campy" exploitation flick, and even as a basic B movie romance/courtroom drama! Quirky details abound--the town gossip bears a striking resemblance in face and deed to Margaret Hamilton's "Miss Gulch", for example, though she rides a scooter instead of a bicycle/broom! And of course, the drug references to insanity-inducing marijuana go a long way in explaining why the tobacco industry has had such a long stranglehold on American lungs... Watch "Assassin of Youth"--you'll triple your entertainment without the use of mood enhancers!
***SPOILERS*** Lame predecessor to the much more entertaining and
unintentionally funny "Reefer Madness" or "Tell Your Children" the film
"Assassin of Youth" was released a year earlier in 1937 about the
perils of that dangerous narcotic and scourge of all mankind that evil
plant Marijuana and how it effects Americas youth that are getting
addicted to it by the hundreds if not thousands as we speak.
After Elizabeth Barrie is killed by a runaway car driven a a pot-smoking teenager young reporter Artie Brighton, Arthur Gardner, is sent to the town where Mrs. Barrie was killed as an undercover reporter. Posing as a soda jerk at the local teenage hangout to get the big scoop on what's going on in town Artie gets close to many of the teenagers in town who have pot parties at night on the beach and at their homes and in many cases joining in but secretly not smoking the stink-weed.
Mrs. Barrie left her fortune to her granddaughter Joan, Luana Walters, under the condition that she lives a moral and just life. It's the moral clause that she, Mrs. Barrie, put in her will that got both Linda Clyton, Fay McKenzie, and her boyfriend or her secretly married husband Jack Howard, Michael Owens, who are both next in line to get Mrs. Barrie's money, to try to get Joan to get a little crazy in public on pot and alcohol and thus lose the inheritance.
Tired plot with Linda and Jack trying to corrupt sweet and innocent Joan by getting her both drunk and stoned only to have her, with the help of Artie, stay clean and sober. It's in fact Joan's little sister Margie, Dorothy Short, who gets hooked on the weed and ends up almost murdering a friend of hers when she caught her together smooching with her boyfriend at a pot party Later in the movie. Margie fell into a coma that left her on the brink of death due to the evil scourge of Marijuana that she was effected by.
Trying to finally get Joan stoned in order to lose her inheritance the two, Linda & Jack, plant some pot in her spongecake at a party that gets her not only smashed but hot and horny as well. Jack seeing his big chance takes off with Joan to a hotel to get involved with her in some very heavy extra-curricular activities. This tryst with Joan has Jack's jealous and outraged girlfriend Linda tip the cops off on where they are and that Jack was having sex, or was in the same hotel room, with an underage female Joan.
On trial for her honor and morals Joan is saved by Artie coming to her rescue in the courtroom just in the nick of time. Artie lets the truth out in exposing Linda and Jack's attempt to discredit Joan as well as their drug-pushing cohort Jack Ingram as the real villains in this tawdry story.
Somewhat more accurate then "Reefer Madness" about Marijuana but nowhere as entertaining even though it did have some bits of comedy in it. There's the local town tattletale Miss. Frisbie, Fern Emmett, and old Pop Brady, Earl Dwire, a local buffoon who knew where all the bodies in the town were buried dating back to 1900 who were more or less in the film for comic relief.
A mildly laughable anti-marijuana picture, ASSASSIN OF YOUTH has some
things going for it. The cast of ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is solidly capable
for a roadshow production, and several actors have opportunities to
shine in comic roles (in particular, the judge, the old checker-playing
codger and the Margaret Hamilton "wicked witch" look-alike). Luana
Walters is an appealing heroine, and a talented actress. (Her biography
at IMDb suggests that Luana might have been better off with marijuana
as her drug of choice.)
Today the old drug-scare films are played for laughs, but ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is an exceptionally competent production. The irony here is that truly terrible dope-soaps like REEFER MADNESS and MARIHUANA are much more entertaining, because they don't waste time with dramatic niceties.
The most notorious anti-drug movies of the 1930s were made by private entrepreneurs like Dwain Esper and Elmer Clifton, not by the U.S. Government. These gentlemen capitalized on the Government's anti-drug publicity, but they were not bound by any political agenda of the day. Their aim was to supply the public what the Hollywood studios could not provide under the Production Code - flashes of T&A, and graphic depictions of vice.
I liked this movie. I see it more as a soap opera than as an anti-marijuana film -- the plot about the battling cousins and the secret marriage is solid soap opera fare. A highlight for me was seeing Fern Emmett on a motor scooter! WOW! A lot of folks call her "that Margaret Hamilton looking lady" -- and the two women are similar in appearance, without a doubt -- but Emmett has her own odd way about her, and the repeated scenes of her scootering down main street and spreading gossip were hilarious. Also fun was Western actor Earl Dwire as Pop Hardy, playing checkers. Quite a character! Best of all, the comic bits had a plot-worthy pay-off, too, for in the end it became obvious that many of the older folks in the small town had themselves made juvenile errors of judgement -- so the fact that "today's" youth were going astray with drugs was nicely undercut by the revelations about the oldsters' own young years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film under the title "The Marijuana Menace", and like that
other period film about the 'dreaded weed' - "Reefer Madness", this one
purports to be an instructional film about the evils of drugs and the
consequences they lead to. I found this to be somewhat more titillating
than it's counterpart, with a livelier bunch of partying teenagers. The
opening sequence offers stern warnings about the use of marijuana with
such newspaper headlines as 'Marijuana Crazed Youth Kills' and
'Marijuana Deals Death'. It would be great to hear commentary from
someone who saw one of these films back when it was made to understand
if the one sided nature of these pictures actually had an influence on
anyone. They seem awfully camp today and it wouldn't surprise me if
they were similarly dismissed by most folks back in the day.
Apart from the drug theme, I got a kick out of how newspaper reporter Art Brighton (Arthur Gardner) simply walked into a confectionery shop and hired himself as a soda jerk on the spot. Then there's the favorite everyone seems to respond to on this board, Fern Emmett as the town gossip who just can't quit. I've only seen her in one other picture, 1943's "Dead Men Walk", and wouldn't you know it, she was the local busy body in that one too! That scooter complemented her character rather nicely, don't you think.
As for the main character Joan Barry (Luana Walters), could they have made her any more ditzy? She kept falling into every trap set for her by scheming cousin Linda (Fay McKenzie); I don't think she needed to puff on anything to get in trouble. At one point, trying to be hip, she exclaims "I have the name, so I'll play the game. Let's make a wild one!... Now what do I do?" Oh brother.
Fans of this type of stuff should be on the look out for the four disc/twenty film DVD pack from Mill Creek Entertainment at a price that makes it a super bargain, especially since it collects a bunch of drug titles under the heading of 'Cult Classics'. They include the aforementioned "Reefer Madness' along with other era films with titles like "Marihuana" and "Cocaine Fiends".
This is a bad movie that purports to be an educational film designed to
warn America about the menace of marijuana use. However, like almost
all the so-called "educational" films of the 30s and 40s, it was really
a shabby little film designed to be snuck past the censors of the Hays
Office. In 1934, the major studios all agreed to abide by the dictates
of a stronger Production Code--eliminating sex, nudity, cursing and
"inappropriate" plots in films (these had actually been relatively
common in films in the early 30s). However, in an effort to sneak in
smut, small studios created films to shock adults when they learn about
terrible social ills, though they were REALLY intended to titillate and
slip adult themes past the censors! Such films as CHILD BRIDE, MAD
YOUTH, REEFER MADNESS and SEX MADNESS were all schlocky trash that
skirted past the boards because they were supposedly educational. Even
though they were laughably bad, they also made money due to low
production costs and because they offered nudity, violence and sordid
story lines--all in the name of education!
ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is a bit more watchable and entertaining than the average grade-z expoitational film. While it DOES feature a brief glimpse of nudity and plenty of over-the-top scenes, it also occasionally actually has some decent acting (I love the old man who owns the soda fountain--he's great) and writing that make it rise slightly above the rest of the films of the genre--particularly towards the end.
It's the story of two sisters--one is wild and the other just really stupid. The really stupid one is the heir to her grandmother's will and she stands to inherit a lot of money--provided she stays out of trouble and is a "nice girl". If not, then the local drug-dealing skank (her cousin) will inherit it because no one knows that this blonde floozy is evil. So it's up to this rotten cousin to do everything she can to destroy the stupid lady's reputation. First, when the stupid lady falls in the lake (thus allowing the audience a cheap thrill when she flashes her boobs), the bad cousin pushes the stupid girl's clothes into the fire (where the had been drying). As a result, she had to go home in only a coat. Second, on two separate occasions, the cousin slips her drugs and makes everyone in town think she's an addicted slut. However, when a nice reporter gets involved, he is able to rush in and save the day at the end--convincing everyone that the lady is only a dim-wit, not a slut or drug user!!
So let's talk about the bad--because after all, that's why people today would approach this film--wanting to see and laugh at the bad. There is a very prudish character who at first glimpse looks a lot like Margaret Hamilton from THE WIZARD OF OZ. Again and again, they show the exact scene of this old biddy on her motor scooter and it's super-reminiscent of the scene of Hamilton riding her bike (all that was missing was the ominous music). Her silly performance and the frequent use of this footage became comical. Second, the dialog in this film by the dumb girl is among the funniest in film history. Here is just one example:
Dumb Girl taking a sip of a spiked drink--"Gee this tastes funny". Sleazy Guy--"Don't worry--just drink it". Dumb Girl--"Okay". (as she sucks down a mickey).
With dialog like that, is it very surprising that again and again this idiot gets in trouble and nearly loses her inheritance?
Now understand that the Dumb Girl doesn't get all the rotten dialog--there's plenty for others as well. Such as when the doctor is called because the Dumb Girl's sister is "in a bad way" after using pot. When her mother asks the doctor how the girl is, he declares "she's a hopeless psychopath"--all because of the evils of marijuana!!
Sadly, there might have been a good reason to make such a film--after all, drugs do make people really stupid and ruin a lot of lives. But this film is so anti-marijuana that is tells us that it is much worse than heroin or pills. This over-statement might have potentially encouraged kids to avoid the dreaded pot and stick with "safer" drugs, like morphine, heroin or god knows what!! My assumption, though, is that most pot-heads just watched the film for a good laugh.
What a disappointment for peek-show fans. The best this exploitation flick could manage is a couple hiked up skirts and a bout of implied nudity. Big deal. I could get as much from old I Love Lucy skits. And what about the hysterical effects of the demon weed. The best they could do here is roll around the floor like a bunch of happy worms. Even the acting from the main actors is too good to be laughable. Actually the best part is gossipy old lady Henrietta zooming out of her drive-way on a gas belching putt-putt, like some Hell's Angel on training wheels. Oh sure, there's some of what you'd treasure from these goofy filmsbad acting, worse dialogue, and uptight moralizing, but basically the production is too good to be good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Down to the Sea in Ships" director Elmer Clifton and scenarist Charles
A. Browne have fashioned a solid, above-average expose about marijuana
abuse. "Assassin of Youth" qualifies as the best of the three anti-pot,
exploitation movies. For the record, "Reefer Madness" and "Marihuana"
were the main two. Basically, "Assassin of Youth" concerns the
assassination of our heroine's virtue. The performances are better than
usual, with Fay McKenzie excelling as villainous Linda Clayton.
The Marijuana puffing miscreants kill wealthy woman Elizabeth Barry in a mysterious car collision, and metropolitan newspapers herald the story across the country in banner headlines. Crusading cub reporter Art Brighton is assigned to cover a story that spins off from Barry's demise. The late Mrs. Barry has willed her entire estate to her granddaughter Joan if the teenager can demonstrate to a local judge that she lives a clean, quiet lifestyle. Naturally, Joan's rival, her cousin Linda Clayton, wants to torpedo Joan. She arranges for her secret husband Jack Howard to lead Joan astray from the straight and narrow trail of virtuosity. Meantime, Art shows up in town and convinces store owner Henry 'Pop' Brady to hire him as the soda fountain jerk on the basis of his ability to make a 'Parisian Flip.' Initially, Judge Herbert and Pop admire Joan as "a nice girl." Art wants to infiltrate the social circle that Joan is a member of to see what is really going on. Joan accompanies Linda and her crowd to a weenie roast at the lake where they smoke reefer cigarettes. Linda is the local connection and her boss wants more users. She sells marijuana cigarettes and something stronger. Suspiciously enough, this stronger stuff may be Satan's boogers, i.e., the dame cocaine. Howard makes a big deal about ditching Linda for the night. He takes Joan as his date to the party, and our hapless heroine slips and falls into the water. While Joan and Howard are at the show, Joan's brazen sister Marjorie 'Marge' Barry (Dorothy Short of "Reefer Madness") dances erotically to a sultan's tune like a burlesque dancer. They loan Joan a coat while her apparel dries. Of course, evil Linda burns Joan's wardrobe so she has only a coat to wear. After they leave the camp, the noisy kids careen into Henrietta Frisbee's front yard. As the roll up on Frisbee's property, they are singing "Old Joan Barry isn't what she used to be" refrain about Joan has changed. Meantime, Marge's character steals the show while making Joan look squeaky. Anyway, the stuck-up Henrietta catches a glimpse of Joan's exposed thigh and shrinks in revulsion. Frisbee promptly calls Joan's mom on the telephone to inform her about her daughter's improper behavior. Art's newspaper editor boss tells him that he isn't interested in obscene parties by the lake. Instead, he wants Art to delve deeper into the town. "What I want to know," he demands, "is the underlying cause of this action. Find out if marijuana is playing any part in the lives of the young people." The editor then runs a short documentary film entitled "The Marijuana Menace." The filmmakers do an adequate job of furnishing historical background about marijuana to justify their instructional objectives. We learn that pot usage began as early as 1090 A.D. Further, the filmmakers tell us that Middle Eastern royalty hired assassins who used marijuana. Dr. A.E. Fossier establishes a link between Arabic world and marijuana. Initially, the weed was called ḥashīsh; Americans derived the word marijuana from ḥashīsh. Fossier quotes statistics about the alarming, widespread abuse of marijuana.
Later, Joan attends another party with far worse circumstances. Joan and Art converse momentarily and then she leaves the soda fountain. Before he goes, Art finds a marijuana cigarette on the floor and fires it up. At the second party, Marge buys reefer but she wants something stronger. Art and Joan run into each other again but get nowhere. Charlie, who broached the subject of marijuana at the lake side party, dances with Linda. Linda hoists her skirt high enough to glimpse thigh. Jack, who brought Joan, concocts something special for her, but she rebuffs his effort. Jack spikes Joan's lemonade. She complains that the lemonade tastes too sweet. Nevertheless, she slugs it back. Art warns Joan about the lateness of the hour and searches for Marge. Marge catches a ride home, but Joan passes out in a bedroom. When Jack says he will take Joan home last, Linda stipulates that Joan must remain. "Maybe angel face can talk her way out of this one." Margie goes crazy with jealousy and threatens to kill another woman over a man because she was too high to use her sense of reason. The doctor tells Mother Barry that Marge is a psychotic with a drug addiction problem. "Oh, they're strong, aren't they," says Joan as she samples her first marijuana cigarette that Jack fires up for her. Meantime, Linda spikes Joan's food and watches her dine. Predictably, Joan gets dizzy and Jack keeps Art from intervening. Art recovers and gets the drop on the smugglers behind Linda. Jack winds up in jail, arrested on a morals charge, while Linda sends the cops to the hotel where they find him Joan. As the reading of the will approaches, Mother Barry visits Joan. The judge decides to read the will to a court room filled with spectators. Art calls Pop and tells him to delay the hearing until he can get there. Miss Frisbee rants about Joan while Pop rampages around the courtroom.
Blonde bombshell, Fay McKenzie, steals the picture from the others as the evil, conniving, immoral Jezebel who heads a marijuana ring. Fay is a really delightful minx who doesn't try to gain any sympathy as she leads brainless bimbo, Luana Walters, down the paths of unrighteousness. Everyone seems to pick on poor Luana. She's the heiress to a small fortune, only, if she comports herself in a clean and moral way. Then there's another sub-story of a reporter who infiltrates this drug crazed group of swingers and wouldn't you know it, but he also gets Luana into deep trouble. The great fun of watching these long forgotten roadshow movies--where the movie owners would rent a theater in towns to show them--is wondering whatever happened to the cast and crew. This movie has some good location and indoor shooting. You watch the young performers doing the latest hot dance step which consists of much hip shaking and head jerking. Whatever happened to Fay McKenzie? She had an honest sparkle of talent and looked great in her l936 fashions. I'm adding this little gem to my permanent DVD library.
Once you get past the anti-marijuana propaganda of this film, just look at it for what it really is, a soap opera. This film could have made a great one. The story about how one cousin wants to ruin another cousin's chance at her rightful inheritance by accusing her of bad morals comes right out of "Guiding Light". The one thing that really stood out was the town gossip. As another person commented, she reminded me of Margaret Hamilton's character of Miss Gulch. Talk about wicked witches, this woman took the cake.
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